Taiwan’s democracy continues to thrive under existential threat posed by China

  • 2024-06-10
  • Andrew H.C. Lee, Representative of Taipei Mission in the Republic of Latvia

China turns a blind eye to pressing global challenges

While the formidable challenges facing the international community, including the post-COVID-19 economic recovery, the Russia-Ukraine and Israel-Gaza wars stress test for the democratic system, the erosion of international norm, poverty and social inequality, energy and food crises, climate change, and threats to global supply chains, nations across the globe must work together in order to build a more sustainable, resilient, and safe world.  While world’s attention is fixated on the wars in Ukraine and Gaza, it would be imprudent to ignore the other dangerous flashpoint

Despite the above mentioned facts, China, as the second largest economy in the world, has deliberately escalated its military intimidation against Taiwan and attempted to unilaterally alter the status quo across the Taiwan Strait in the past years. China began holding large-scale military exercises around Taiwan in August 2022, following a visit that month to Taiwan by then U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. And it regularized certain military activities after Pelosi’s visit, particularly increased naval activities around Taiwan in addition to near-daily incursions into Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ).

Beijing regularizes and intensifies military threats against Taiwan

In May, Taiwan saw the second-highest number of monthly violations of its ADIZ on record and the highest number of China’s navy vessels by tracking People’s Liberation Army (PLA) aircraft 463 times and naval/coastal vessels 272 times. Furthermore, only three days after the inauguration of President Lai Ching-te on May 20, China blatantly launched a two-day drills, code-named Joint Sword 2024A, around Taiwan and the Taipei-controlled islands of Kinmen, Matsu, Wuqiu and Dongyin, in what it said was "powerful punishment" for those who promote Taiwan independence.

The military activities unprecedentedly involved 53 naval and coastal ships and 111 Chinese military aircraft around Taiwan, carrying live missiles and focus on naval and air combat readiness and preparedness for seizing battlefield control and strikes of crucial targets in Taiwan. As part of intimidation, Beijing also released a 3D simulation animation depicting the use of warships, warplanes, and missiles appearing in Taiwan’s northern, southern and eastern regions. The question which arises is not if, but when, China will attack Taiwan.

A rehearsal of full-scale military invasion of Taiwan

On May 20, in his inaugural speech President Lai called on Beijing to stop intimidating the island and said that Taiwan and mainland China were not subordinate to one another. Beijing used President Lai's remarks as an excuse to break a long-standing tacit agreement across the Taiwan Strait. Such unilateral military actions were an apparent and irrational provocation, aiming to send a signal to Washington and the international community that the so called “Taiwan Question” is purely China’s internal affairs and it will not allow any foreign powers to interfere with this matter. Beijing has manipulated this strategy to suit itself and demonstrated that it is determined and capable of taking Taiwan by force if necessary. China’s tactic of sending warplanes into Taiwan air defense zone and navy ships cross the Strait median line on a regular basis is aimed to establish its jurisdiction over the area for it’s future military aggressions against Taiwan.

The locations of the two previous Chinese military drills around Taiwan in August 2022 and April 2023 did not include the outlying islands. The areas for the latest PLA exercises marked the first time that Taiwan's cluster islands have been included with an intention of simulating a full-scale Chinese armed invasion of Taiwan.

The military maneuver has violated the prohibition on the use of force and the principle of settling disputes by peaceful means as set forth in the United Nations Charter, and sparked grave concern among the international community. This reckless and irresponsible behavior has also further destabilized regional peace and security, and made the Strait the most dangerous flashpoint, threatening Taiwan's democracy and freedom as well as 80 strong percent of the world’s largest ships by tonnage passing through the Taiwan Strait.

Deterring China’s threat requires a strong international coalition of partners

Freedom of navigation for all ships in the Strait is guaranteed by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. China is a treaty signatory, however it illegally claims the Strait its inland waters, and continues to militarize South China Sea and expand its military operations in East China Sea in the past decade.

The PRC’s growing hunger and insatiable appetite for reshaping geopolitical landscape and gaining global dominance would only increase its assertiveness and ambition in turning the country into an international rule-setter and global leader enforcing law and order with Chinese characteristics. Therefore, deterring Beijing’s growing threats to peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait and Indo-Pacific region will require a strong international coalition of partners to send credible warning signals to stop China from taking reckless and risky actions.

Taiwan continues to safeguard sovereignty and engage with international community

Given the Taiwan Strait’s strategic importance and Taiwan’s dominance in manufacturing and exports of semiconductors and ICT goods, any type of crisis in the areas surrounding Taiwan would bring global supply chains to a grinding halt and cause a devastating disruption of international trade.

In the past years, U.S. has tried to build greater cohesion among partners in the region reflects the reality that Taiwan has become an issue of global consequence. The economic, financial, and supply chain impacts of any instability in the Taiwan Strait would be felt in every country and community that is connected to the global economy.

Faced with China’s heavy-handed suppression and growing military intimidation, the government of the Republic of China (Taiwan) has repeatedly emphasized that it will staunchly safeguard its national sovereignty and security, exercise restraint, and refrain from instigating disputes. At the same time, Taiwan will not back down. Instead, it will continue to play a constructive role to steadily strengthen cooperation and exchanges with all countries and keep employing steadfast and pragmatic approaches to actively seek participation in the UN system and international community.